Normally in a hotel you would find evacuation advice in the event of a fire. Here there was advice in the event of a volcanic eruption! I can’t say I wasn’t worried! But I took comfort in the fact that they have technology to monitor the volcano, and procedures in place for what to do if it erupts. Preparedness (or “oonagi”, as Friends would say!) is probably the key. There were also trenches down the side of the volcano to filter the magma away from houses and towards the sea. The biggest safety-net is probably that the volcano is located on an island, so the sea would presumably act as a buffer between the volcano and the town. Nevertheless, an ash cloud could easily cover a town – that’s right – I paid attention in Geography! 🙂
In fact, Geography was one of my favourite subjects at school, so I was fascinated by the volcano despite my fear of it! We took a boat from Kagoshima (the town) over to the island where the volcano (Mount Sakurajima) was located. The island was pretty small – really just the size of the volcano, with some houses around the outside (fertile soil, I would say!).
We took a bus tour around the volcano, which was really good… we were the only non-Japanese people on the tour, which was in Japanese. One elderly Japanese chap on the bus spoke a bit of English, and was friendly towards us. We bonded over the fact that we had a Sony camera phone, and he knew Sony, it being Japanese and all. He did seem very excited about the prospect of seeing a big radish, and kept saying “ahhhh Big Radish!!!” excitedly as we approached. We were a little confused about why this particular radish (or maybe the whole radish species) should warrant such celebrity. We are still wondering this, to be honest. Here it is, anyway:
The bus toured around the island and it was really interesting to see the channels that have been constructed to funnel any magma away. We also saw traditional Japanese arches buried up to the top by the last eruption. At one stage the tour guide had clearly said all she had to say, as she started singing some traditional Japanese songs – something that I think is sorely lacking in English coach trips.
The bus stopped half-way round at a souvenir place, as is customary for coach tours. I was looking around the gift shop when a man came up to me and offered me a taste of a specialty – dried fish. Now let me pause at this stage to say I hate fish, and I would NEVER eat fish with eyes in. I wouldn’t even go there with DRIED fish. However I did not want to be disrespectful – this was a local specialty, plus, as I have explained before, it is rude to say “No” in Japan. So I took the tiny dried fish with eyes and ate it. I then did what is polite and made “yummy!!” noises and told him I liked it. So he offered me another one. At which point I could see where this was going….! There were a lot of dried fish with eyes in that shop. I didn’t really want to taste any more and end up going home armed with bags of them. So I said “no thank you” as politely as I could, and fled from the shop. You can’t say I didn’t try!!
Here is another photo of the volcano. Smoke was continually billowing out of the top, although it looks a bit like cloud in the photos!
The town of Kagoshima itself was pleasant enough, and we met a kind old gentleman who gave us some postcards. Kagoshima train station has a leisure centre directly over it, with a swimming pool on one of the top floors. It seemed bizarre to me as the building would need to be built to take that weight, but then what do I know, I’m not an engineer!
Just like in Hiroshima, we were laughed at. I went to a fast-food restaurant and as I couldn’t even identify what it was I was ordering, never mind say it, I pointed at the menu to indicate what I wanted. The International method of ordering food. However instead of taking my order, the man behind the counter started laughing. He said something to his colleague at the next till, and he started laughing too, and then the other customers in the restaurant started laughing too. I was like “what?! Am I a comedian in Japan?!”. All I can think is that they had run out of what I ordered, or it would be a 5 minute wait, or something normal that you would expect in a restaurant, but they didn’t know how to tell me that, so it came out as nervous giggles?? Again, who knows!
Next blog: Beppu, Japan
Previous blog: Hiroshima, Japan